WITH her band The Bangles, Susanna Hoffs was among the biggest pop stars of the 80s.
Her glittering career as writer and performer saw songs like Eternal Flame, Walk Like an Egyptian, Manic Monday, If She Knew What She Wants, and Going Down to Liverpool become huge hits on both sides of the Atlantic, bringing success, fame and adulation.
And the Californian creative dynamo has remained in the spotlight with acclaimed solo work, high-profile collaborations and even movies – not least an hilarious role in the spoof spy Austin Powers films.
But ask her what she is most proud of, and there is no doubt...
“I have written a book and am so proud of it,” she says warmly, talking from her home in an uncharacteristically rainy Los Angeles.
“I have always been fuelled by a burning desire to make art – with painting, sculpture, music and now writing. It has been an epiphany. It was a lifelong dream and is so much fun!”
Susanna was enchanted by Oxford and its famous university
Her book, This Bird Has Flown, is a racy, pacy, funny rock & roll novel which explores love, passion, and the ghosts of our past. It also shines a light on the reality of the music business that could only come from an insider who has spent most of her life in the industry.
And it is set in Oxford – inspired by visits to the city to visit her son Jackson who spent a term at the University while reading English literature at California’s University of Stanford.
Kite Festival at Kirtlington
The story follows musician and one-hit-wonder Jane Start who is 33, broke, smarting from a recent separation, living back at her parents’ house, and reduced to performing karaoke tracks in Las Vegas.
When her former manager sends her to London in the hope of reviving her career, she meets a dashing Oxford professor – cue romance, intrigue and soul-searching among the colleges and quads of the 'city of dreaming spires'.
This weekend Susanna brings the book back to its roots, flying over to star at the youthful Kite Festival in Kirtlington - in a rarefied, stunning patch of the Oxfordshire countryside between Kidlington and Bicester.
She features on a bill including indie band Suede, soul singer Candi Staton, rockers The Pretenders, electro icon Alson Goldfrapp, and synth-pop act Hot Chip. But Susanna is not taking to the stage this weekend as a musician... but as an author.
Billed as a ‘festival of music and ideas’, Kite Festival – which was launched last year – also boasts an impressive programme of comedians, politicians, thinkers, actors and writers, which just happens to include the novelist co-founder of the Bangles.
Kite Festival is this weekend
“I am ecstatic, happy and excited to be coming to England for Kite Festival!” Susanna says with genuine enthusiasm; softly-spoken, sweetly self-depracating and disarmingly charming in a chat which betrays her sophisticated sense of humour, elegant erudition and fierce inteligence.
“I took several trips to Oxford to spend time with Jackson – and really did fall in love with it. I thought it was such a charming place.
“It was really nice to walk around the Covered Market, eat by the river and see the Ashmolean and Museum of Natural History – and all those things ended up in the book.”
She also acquainted herself with some of the city’s watering holes: “I loved the Bear,” she sighs, breaking into a chuckle as she goes on: “...I also went to Turf Tavern – where Bill Clinton famously ‘didn’t inhale’!
“I wanted to soak up the ambience and see the famous places. My favourite thing though, was to wander around and just be a fly on the wall.
“I grew up in LA; it’s a pretty new city. But everything in Europe is so wonderfully old and iconic. So for a California girl, it’s lovely to spend time there.”
To the delight of Bangles fans, Susanna’s Kite Festival date on Sunday will also see her picking up a guitar and treating the crowd to some of her favourite tunes.
“It’s so new to me being an author,” she laughs
“I find it’s fun not to have anything too structured and to commune with people in the audience and take questions, but it’s also fun to have a guitar nearby and do a bit of this and a bit of that!”
Her book has attracted rave reviews from the likes of Bridget Jones’ Diary author Helen Fielding and The New York Times, which described it as “a smart, ferocious rock-chick redemption romance”, and said it was the novel "we all needed".
Still in high demand as an artist, and married for 30 years to the Hollywood filmmaker Jay Roach, she has little in common with her struggling literary creation. But while she insists it is not autobiographical she admits there are parallels between her and Jane Start.
Sunset at Oxfordshire's Kite Festival
“She is a musician, is creative and a performer,” she says. “I deliberately made her a musician as I wanted to raise the curtains on what that’s like and I have been in the music business for so many years.
“She is trying to find her voice and is grappling with being a one-hit-wonder. It was fun to delve into feelings and find words for something I’ve always experienced – the fear!”
She goes on: “The characters drove the story and are just inventions, but I wanted to find a way to share my real life experiences.”
She reveals she is already working on a follow up, continuing the story of some of the book’s characters.
“I love spending time with them and hearing them talk to me,” she says warmly. “There’s something so freeing in writing about them. They feel like family members and I don’t want to say goodbye – ever.”
There are also plans for a film, with the book under option to a major movie studio and Susanna at work on the screenplay.
“When I hear the feedback it is music to my ears,” she says. “And I want to tell everyone that if you have a dream, don’t put it off. Don’t say ‘I’ll get round to it’ – just do it.
“If there’s something you want to do, just do it!”
She says her younger self would have been proud of her. She laughs: “I like to think she’d say ‘good for you; we did it!’ She’d tell me ‘keep the joy... seek it out, even if it’s hard... and don’t give in!’.”
Susanna Hoffs appears at the Kite Festival in Kirtlington this Sunday, June 11. The festival is on all weekend
Go to kitefestival.co.uk